Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Bob Cole and I am a former Psychologist and the Founder and CEO of World Wide Stereo which opened in 1979. World Wide Stereo is a consumer electronics company specializing in the sale, design, and installation of Audio, Video, Home Theater, Media rooms, and Smart Home products such as shades, lighting, networks, and HVAC control.
My goal is to, by using electronics, provide customers with a higher quality of entertainment and environmental control in a manner that is simple and easy. My first store is our signature store and has been described by many in the industry as the best in the country. It is supported by a second Technology Design Gallery on the other side of Philadelphia.
I have a sophisticated team of Salespeople, Designers, Engineers, and Technicians who manage our very successful Custom Installation Department which has achieved national recognition.
I am most pleased that we have minimal staff turnover. A high percentage of my staff have been with me for over 20 years with several over 38 and 42 years. We are a profitable $56 to $62 million business and I am supported by a team of five highly effective C Suite professionals.
I recommend you check out our Our Story page. You’ll see a fun and wacky timeline of the evolution of the business and the headliner video gets to the heart and soul of what we’re all about.
Here’s the embed link for the video mentioned above:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We officially opened in 1979 as strictly a hi-fi store then added TV and video shortly thereafter with a swiftly growing car audio installation business. In 1980 we identified in-home installation as a growing need. Consumers no longer wanted to attempt the work themselves, but more so, they wanted it done right and without complication.
It’s always been our vision at World Wide Stereo to take the “scary” out of electronics. Technology should improve your quality of life without stress. It should be easy to enjoy good home entertainment and to live in a more comfortable, easy (and FUN!) environment.
There is no reason to put the baby down or stop working on your current project to adjust the lights, close the shades, raise the room temperature, or turn on the music when all you have to do is ask Alexa to do it.
Over these past 45 years, we have evolved, constantly improving our mix of products, improving our design and engineering skills, and installing techniques to do a better job.
In 2008 we got very serious about providing the best possible e-commerce experience in our industry and took our website, transactional. We now have a substantive e-commerce business. Among the many accolades we have received, USA Today named us second best in customer service after Amazon, and Newsweek named us the best online shopping experience for Consumer Electronics.
We built the original version of our e-commerce website completely in-house with all data fed from our custom ERP (also built in-house). Early on, it made sense for us to keep development internal. This enabled us to run our business and craft the exact internal UI and customer facing experiences the way we wanted, with no compromises.
As we’ve evolved the business, we have looked to outside commercial applications and partners that can support us in specialized areas to bring their expertise and help us scale. It’s been a practice in abandonment but has allowed us to sustain growth and increase bandwidth and skillset in critical areas.
E-commerce has allowed us to diversify our business, an integral component to stability during the pandemic, and facilitate connections and buying power within our industry and beyond that would have never been possible with a regional brick and mortar.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Starting as a one-man band with the help of my very pregnant wife I built out our initial 1,500 sqft store soup to nuts by myself learning as I went with a little help from my friends. We rapidly received strong local community support which is now a national phenomenon.
That first year we hired Ron Rumer who is still with us today and running our Sales and Custom Integration division. He was the first of many and I have to say one of our signatures is our staff retention. We are a very happy crew of 92 people, most of whom have been with us for quite some time.
Back in the day, we were very undercapitalized so our early advertising consisted of simple classified ads. Focusing on moving customers rather than boxes, word of mouth spread quickly expanding our ad budget to running some comedic ads on local radio which developed almost a cult following. Most of our marketing today is on the Internet, but the backbone of the company remains word of mouth and customer referrals.
Whether at retail, in a customer's home, or on the Internet, people want to engage with someone knowledgeable and trustworthy. Especially after the sale. It’s quite simple.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Doing well by doing good is the mantra of our company. Once people realize we’re more interested in improving the quality of their lives and giving them the best possible experience, they come back again and again, and they tell their friends! It’s our life’s blood and has not changed to this day.
Before the internet, we focused on humorous radio spots meant to be memorable., Capital was low so using a minimum buy, we scheduled them at the same time every day, during drive time, for months at a time to hit the same people.
We developed a cult following and, to this day, people still mention our radio ads. This was supported by thought provoking Billboards that elicited a double take and full page ads in Lifestyle magazines. We had regular “Events” that were always more than just about technology and saving money.
Once the internet arrived, we made every effort to maintain this theme of thought provoking humor and personal attention on our site. Early on we established a referral network supported by our manufacturers, and media sources and then adopted all the evolving tools from Google, Affiliate channels, and others.
Of note, once we started to sell on Amazon, in-store sales and sales on our site increased in those product lines..
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We continued to grow year over year doubling our revenue the first year our site went transactional in 2008 increasing an average of 20% over the next 5 years. Excluding the Covid bubble of 2020 which had unusually high sales, we grow at a steady 5% and are enjoying a solid year despite the current economic woes.
We are rebuilding our site and developing new relationships to increase overall numbers and a better bottom line. Holding onto our core values, evolving with the times, and staying ahead of the trends has proved a successful formula. Our future looks bright.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing I’ve learned in business is that most people are looking for a personal connection. Whether at retail, in a customer's home, or on the Internet, people want to engage with someone who is knowledgeable and trustworthy. Especially after the sale. It’s quite simple. In the retail and Custom Integration channels, we really have no direct competitor. We are substantially larger than any similar local operations in CI (Custom Integration) and no one does retail in the manner we present products in our stores. We are not a big box mover and use the retail experience to segway into an in-home Custom Integration with full automation of entertainment and environment being the goal.
Locally, the big box movers are the source of referrals resulting from poor customer satisfaction. Online, Amazon is the clearest competitor even though we sell on their marketplace. We use other 3rd party sites like Target, Macys, and Walmart which offer us more control over how we go to market.
Looming on our horizon though are our manufacturers who are selling directly to consumer on their sites and 3rd party on Amazon offering exclusives disallowing us to even compete. I think this is short sighted as these are fulfillment sites and don’t offer a mechanism to present the products in a meaningful way. Technological advances are being ignored and how these products simulate into the home is nowhere to be found.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Many years back we built our own proprietary ERP system that runs our entire business and is our single source of truth. This system easily integrates with other tools like our CRM, Field Aware for scheduling, Microsoft Dynamics GP for accounting, and other Microsoft products.
We have expanded that system to integrate with other commercial applications specializing in certain areas as we expand our business.
This model allows us to run and manage our business the way we want to while also benefiting from a quicker time to market.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Considering my background as a psychologist, it should come as no surprise that resources that focus on what makes people and therefore companies tick are my top read. “Who Moved My Cheese,” “The One Minute” series, and “7 Habits of Successful“, books all helped me focus on concepts quickly and, if nothing else, validated what I already thought.
What I didn’t care for was their simplicity and the separation between management and staff. In my world managers get their hands dirty. They participate and are engaged in the business of the company. The “Good to Great,” series I found more inspiring with the last one, “Good by Choice,” giving me a good read on who I might become as a business leader.
I do listen to the occasional generic podcast if they are about current business trends, new technologies, or simple ‘how to do” programs like making better Excel sheets, or how to run a PERT chart. I’ve taken the occasional course like the one that turned my business around in the 1980”s, “Basic Accounting Principles.”
“Stumbling on Happiness,” and “Made to Stick,” were my style. They both focused on clear data that could be utilized in any situation. Surprisingly, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink,” I considered an excellent business book. I’ve also been heavily influenced by the “Art of War,” as a smaller player who was repeatedly targeted by competitors. 16 Regional, Local, and National players have moved in to within 100 yards of my Signature store, targeting us.
All but one are gone. I think I won. Myself and my staff constantly participate in industry webinars and guest trainers that visit the company. Everyone at World Wide Stereo participates in ongoing training and personal improvement programs.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The biggest mistake I see start-ups make is taking money out of their business too early. I waited until we had a strong foundation before I took any money out for myself so having a backup income source is key.
In my case, it was my working teacher's wife. Another thought is to trust their employees to do their job. That’s how they learn and grow.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for new faces to improve our staff pool. Anyone with an interesting pitch will almost always get an interview. If you excel in sales or technical services we will do what we can to make room. So yes, we are hiring.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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